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Preflop Tournament Basics: Part 2 – Mid Stack Play

by Ryan Laplante |  Published: Mar 25, 2020

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This column is a continuation of my previous look at preflop tournament basics, specifically, Deep Stack play. Now I want to take a look at Mid Stack play and how you should adjust.

Remember, preflop tournament poker has undergone a fairly recent revolution. We now have access to preflop solvers that help a lot with understanding what types of hands work well at various stack depths, and what ranges should look like from a theory perspective.

While these solvers are powerful tools, and we have made huge progress in our knowledge of what preflop should look like, we still have a long way to go. That being said, the following approach is an easy and structured way to think about preflop poker.

Mid Stack Opening Ranges

When Mid Stack, your opening ranges require high playability. The way in which this is different than Deep Stack is what type of playability certain hands have. As always, the later position we are in, the more hands we can open to steal blinds, while being less likely to get three-bet.

That being said, the deeper effective you are, the more it matters to be able to make nut-quality hands. So, it stands to reason, that the shallower you are, the more important it is for you to be able to flop hands like top pairs and good draws.

One of the most common mistakes I see most players make is opening similar ranges on 25 to 40 big blinds (bb) as they would on a stack of 70bb+.

At this stack depth, if we are opening it should be to 2.25x the big-blind. If someone limps, we should add 2x for the first limper, and 1x per extra limper. The only time we really get to open limp ourselves is when sitting on 30bb or less.

I’m going to show two opening ranges for each position and situation. The first will be what theory suggests to open, and the second will be my simplified advice for most players reading this article. EP Stands for Early Position, UTG for 8 handed or UTG-1 for 9 handed.

Early Position

40bb Theory: 4-4+, A-10 offsuit+, K-10 offsuit+, 9-8 suited, 10-8 suited+, J-9 suited+, Q-9 suited+, K-6 suited+, A-3 suited+ = 18.9% of hands

My Suggestion: 2-2+, A-9 offsuit+, K-10 offsuit+, Q-J offsuit, 9-8 suited, 10-8 suited+, J-9 suited+, Q-9 suited+, K-7 suited+, A-2 suited+ = 21.6% of hands

Middle Position

40bb Theory: 2-2+, A-9 offsuit+, K-10 offsuit+, Q-10 offsuit+, J-10 offsuit, 7-6 suited, 8-7 suited, 9-7 suited+, 10-8 suited+, J-8 suited+, Q-8 suited+, K-5 suited+, A-2 suited+ = 25.2% of hands

My Suggestion: 2-2+, A-8 offsuit+, K-9 offsuit+, Q-10 offsuit+, J-10 offsuit, 10-9 offsuit, 6-5 suited, 7-6 suited, 8-6 suited+, 9-7 suited+, 10-7 suited+, J-7 suited+, Q-7 suited+, K-5 suited+, A-2 suited+ = 29.4% of hands

Button

40bb Theory: 2-2+, A-2 offsuit+, K-5 offsuit+, Q-8 offsuit+, J-8 offsuit+, 10-8 offsuit+, 9-8 offsuit, 5-4 suited, 6-4 suited+, 7-5 suited+, 8-5 suited+, 9-5 suited+, 10-4 suited+, J-3 suited+, Q-2 suited+, K-2 suited+, A-2 suited+ = 50.9% of hands

My Suggestion: 2-2+, A-2 offsuit+, K-5 offsuit+, Q-8 offsuit+, J-8 offsuit+, 10-8 offsuit+, 9-8 offsuit, 5-4 suited, 6-4 suited+, 7-5 suited+, 8-5 suited+, 9-6 suited+, 10-6 suited+, J-5 suited+, Q-2 suited+, K-2 suited+, A-2 suited+ = 49% of hands

The Deep Stack opening ranges percent from last week were:

EP – 14.7% – 4.2% tighter than Mid Stack
MP2 – 22% – 3.2% tighter than Mid Stack
BTN – 53.8% – 2.9% looser than Mid Stack

The reason why most of the ranges are looser for Mid Stack play than for Deep Stack play is due to high cards having a lot more playability the more shallow you are. This means that offsuit hands which make up the majority of hands possible gain more viability the shallower you are effective.

Facing An Open

When facing an open it matters even more so to have strong playability in our ranges than in our own opens. Our value hands need to be very strong, and our bluffs need to be pushing a lot of equity.

From a theory perspective there is a lot of mixing in terms of whether a hand is a call or a three-bet. This is the case because in order for a hand to be strong enough to be used as a three-bet for value or a bluff, it should also have enough play-ability to be used as a call.

Lets Look At This Situation:

A player in early position opens to 2.25x on with 40 big blinds behind, and we are in MP2 also on 40 big blinds. We are going to assume our opponent uses the GTO range of 18.9 percent of hands posted above.

Against this range, we get to play 11.4 percent of hands in total, with 5.2 percent being calls and 6.2 percent being three-bets. Almost every hand in this range can be played as either a call, or as a three-bet. The sizing we will three-bet to here is 3.2x the open, or to 7.2bb.

Highest Frequency Three-Bets: J-J+, A-J offsuit+, A-K suited, A-9 suited, A-8 suited, K-10 suited

Three-Bets At 50%+ Frequency: 9-9, 10-10, A-10 suited, K-10 suited, K-J suited, Q-J suited, J-10 suited

Three-Bets At 25–50% Frequency: 8-8, K-Q offsuit, K-9 suited, Q-10 suited

What we learn from these ranges is similar to Deep Stack play. Because of how strong our total range is here to play, almost every hand in this range is strong enough to use as either a call or a three-bet. In order to have good board coverage as well as enough bluffs, we have a lot of hands that are 25 percent to 75 percent frequency three-bets. This means that it is important to have both board coverage and play-ability when building our ranges as calls and as three-bets.

Playing From The Blinds

Again, in tournament poker it is especially important to defend your blind and the posted ante. This is because we often are getting good odds on a call and we are closing out the action. It has nothing to do with that it is “our” chips in the pot.

The main difference between Deep Stack and Mid Stack here is how much looser we can defend on Mid. This is for two reasons. First of all, the Deep Stack open size is to 2.5x and not the smaller 2.25×. Secondly, more hands have enough playability as we get shallow because being suited matters less. The change is defending just 39.6 percent on Deep Stack play to 60.3 percent on Mid Stack.

When facing an early position open to 2.25x from a 40bb stack, we should be playing from the small blind with 19.2 percent of hands, calling 12.4 percent, three-betting 6.8 percent and shoving all in 1.7 percent.

Big Blind

For the big blind we call 53.1 percent, three-bet 7.2 percent to 4.1x or 9.25bb and have zero shoves.

The total playing range from the big blind is: 2-2+, A-2 offsuit+, K-5 offsuit+, Q-8 offsuit+, J-8 offsuit+, 10-8 offsuit+, 9-7 offsuit+, 8-6 offsuit+, 7-6 offsuit, 6-5 offsuit, 5-4 offsuit, and all suited hands. Our total playing range here is 60.3 percent of hands on 40bb vs this 2.25x open.

Our three-bet sizing should be to 9.25 big blinds or 4.1x their open size. The hands we choose at highest frequency are below.

Bluffs: A-7 offsuit thru A-10 offsuit, A-5 offsuit, K-Q offsuit, K-10 offsuit, Q-10 offsuit, J-10 offsuit, K-7 suited, K-6 suited, J-9 suited, J-8 suited, 10-9 suited
Value: 9-9+, A-Q offsuit+, A-K suited

While the above is a structured and theory-based approach to how to play Mid Stack tournaments, I must reiterate that it barely scratches the surface of huge depth of play that is possible on this type of stack. That being said I hope this article has helped give you a better insight on how to approach Mid Stack play from a fundamental point of view. ♠

Ryan Laplante is a WSOP bracelet winner. He has more than $5 million in tournament cashes and eight WSOP final tables. He is the co-founder of LearnProPoker.com, an easy to use GTO based training site. 

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